Butch Dykeman, Toni Gay, and a moral panic

From ADS-L, a topic that combines comics, sexuality, and vocabulary. Mostly the work of John Baker, who wrote on the 6th:

I recently encountered the old comic book characters Toni Gay and Butch Dykeman, although it seems that these names have attracted comment on the Internet for years. It would seem that the names adhere too strongly to the same theme to be coincidence  Particularly striking is the story in Popular Teen-Agers #6 (Jan. 1951), the first page of which is [on the Digital Comic Museum site], where a gym instructor slaps Butch Dykeman around for his bad posture:

  (#1)

Comic books in the 1949 to 1951 period received little formal attention, and there was considerable flexibility in what could be portrayed.  This was to change radically in 1954, with the publication of the best-seller Seduction of the Innocent and publishers’ institution of the Comics Code Authority, which imposed a rigorous system of censorship, but it was still an almost-anything-goes system for Butch Dykeman and Toni Gay.  These comics are not antedatings of “gay,” “butch,” or “dyke,” but they are early uses and demonstrate that the terms were sufficiently little-known [to the general public] that they could be used as names in a children’s comic book.

Now, from Baker, some history of the comics in question:

Toni Gay started as Toni Gayle, a “glamorous model with a yen for crime detecting.”  She appeared under that name in comics such as Young King Cole, Guns Against Gangsters, and Thrilling Crime Cases.  Still using the Toni Gayle name, she was first paired up with Butch Dykeman in School-Day Romances #1 (Nov. – Dec. 1949), in which she was a student at the Venus School of Modeling and he was a student at the adjacent Adonis School of Dramatic Arts. [AMZ rolls eyes] The crime-fighting adventures were now done; Butch and Toni instead were comedic romantic figures, and some stories also featured Toni’s romantic rival, Eve Ardor.  Without explanation, Toni Gayle’s last name changed to Gay with School-Day Romances #4 (May – June 1950) (or possibly #3, which I don’t see online).  School-Day Romances changed its name to Popular Teen-Agers with #5 (Sept. 1950).  Gay and Dykeman continued as a feature through Popular Teen-Agers #7 (Apr. 1951), and Gay appeared without Dykeman in Popular Teen-Agers #8 (July 1951).

After that Popular Teen-Agers became a standard romance comic that did not have regular characters, continuing in that format until #23 (Nov. 1954).

The cover of Popular Teen-Agers #6, from which image #1 comes:

  (#2)

On ADS-L, Bill Mullins pointed out that attacks on comic books appeared before the publication of Frederick Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent in 1954; Wertham, in particular, had been raving on the topic for at least 6 years before SotI was published. Mullins noted that an Anti-Comics Crusade site has a timeline on the moral panic. The Wikipedia article on SotI, which I’ll quote from below, is also a good source.

Baker continued on the story of Gay and Dykeman:

there were even some attempts at establishing comics codes prior to the 1954 Comics Code Authority.  However, these either were unenforced or applied only to one publisher. The stories featuring Toni Gay and Butch Dykeman were published by Star Publications, which subsequently was to be singled out for criticism in Seduction of the Innocent (although I don’t think there was any reference to these particular stories). Effectively, despite the increasing public criticism, comic books in 1949 – 1951 were limited only by what distributors were willing to carry, and distributors saw themselves as in the business of distribution, not editing. (I’ve written before about the very different situation with newspaper comic strips, which were carefully edited by a syndicate and then received editorial scrutiny again at many of the newspapers running the strip.) We don’t see comic books from this period with explicit nudity or strong obscenities, but distributors had no interest in combing through comic books to spot inappropriate words like “butch” and “dyke” (or, to use an example from Mad Comics that was disguised as a town name,”poontang”).  This relative freedom was to change radically in 1954 with the Comics Code Authority, which did comb through books looking for inappropriate material.  Star Publications did not survive the change.

While I haven’t done an extensive survey, I don’t think that either Seduction of the Innocent or any of the other criticisms of comic books chose to mention Toni Gay or Butch Dykeman. I see this as further support for my assertion that the terms “butch” and “dyke,” although already extant, were still little-known, since the critics likely would have seized upon this evidence if they had recognized it for what it was.

The story of SotI. From the Wikipedia article:

Seduction of the Innocent is a book by German-American psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, published in 1954, that warned that comic books were a negative form of popular literature and a serious cause of juvenile delinquency. The book was taken seriously at the time, and was a minor bestseller that created alarm in parents and galvanized them to campaign for censorship. At the same time, a U.S. Congressional inquiry was launched into the comic book industry. Subsequent to the publication of Seduction of the Innocent, the Comics Code Authority was voluntarily established by publishers to self-censor their titles.

Seduction of the Innocent cited overt or covert depictions of violence, sex, drug use, and other adult fare within “crime comics” – a term Wertham used to describe not only the popular gangster/murder-oriented titles of the time, but superhero and horror comics as well. The book asserted that reading this material encouraged similar behavior in children.

Comics, especially the crime/horror titles pioneered by EC [Entertaining Comics], were not lacking in gruesome images; Wertham reproduced these extensively, pointing out what he saw as recurring morbid themes such as “injury to the eye”. Many of his other conjectures, particularly about hidden sexual themes (e.g. images of female nudity concealed in drawings or Batman and Robin as gay partners), met with derision within the comics industry. Wertham’s claim that Wonder Woman had a bondage subtext was somewhat better documented, as her creator William Moulton Marston had admitted as much; however, Wertham also claimed Wonder Woman’s strength and independence made her a lesbian. Wertham also claimed that Superman was both un-American and a fascist.

Some comics and pulp magazines of the sort that that Wertham objected to (other than those depicting Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman):

  (#3)

  (#4)

  (#5)

More from Wikipedia:

Beginning in 1948, Wertham wrote and spoke widely, arguing about the detrimental effects that comics reading had on young people.

… The fame of Seduction of the Innocent added to Wertham’s previous celebrity as an expert witness and made him an obvious choice to appear before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency led by anti-crime crusader Estes Kefauver. In extensive testimony before the committee, Wertham restated arguments from his book and pointed to comics as a major cause of juvenile crime. The committee’s questioning of their next witness, EC publisher William Gaines, focused on violent scenes of the type Wertham had decried. Though the committee’s final report did not blame comics for crime, it recommended that the comics industry tone down its content voluntarily. Possibly taking this as a veiled threat of potential censorship, publishers developed the Comics Code Authority to censor their own content. The new code not only banned violent images, but entire words and concepts (e.g. “terror” and “zombies”), and dictated that criminals must always be punished. This destroyed most EC-style titles, leaving a sanitized subset of superhero comics as the chief remaining genre. Wertham nevertheless considered the Comics Code inadequate to protect youth.

… Wertham “manipulated, overstated, compromised, and fabricated evidence” in support of the contentions expressed in Seduction of the Innocent. [Carol L. Tilley. (2012). Seducing the Innocent: Fredric Wertham and the Falsifications that Helped Condemn Comics. Information & Culture: A Journal of History. 47 (4), 383–413.]

Overall, a sad story. The moral panic eventually passed, though only after several comics companies had been destroyed. And then the wheel turned, Wertham was discredited, and the media had their revenge. Zombies are everywhere, and vampires, and other unWerthamian creatures. Eclipse Comics reprinted many of the pre-Code horrors. Tales from the Crypt came back from the dead stronger than ever. And incredibly prolific crime and comics writer Max Allan Collins published a mystery novel Seduction of the Innocent. On those last two developments:

Tales from the Crypt. From Wikipedia:

Tales from the Crypt, sometimes titled HBO’s Tales from the Crypt, is an American horror anthology television series that ran from June 10, 1989, to July 19, 1996, on the premium cable channel HBO — for seven seasons with a total of 93 episodes. The title is based on the 1950s EC Comics series of the same name and most of the content originated in that comic or the six other EC Comics of the time (The Crypt of Terror, Haunt of Fear, Vault of Horror, Crime SuspenStories, Shock SuspenStories and Two-Fisted Tales).

… Because it was aired on HBO, a premium cable television channel, it was one of the few anthology series to be allowed to have full freedom from censorship by network standards and practices … HBO allowed the series to contain graphic violence as well as other content that had not appeared in most television series up to that time, such as profanity, gore, nudity and sexual situations, which could give the series a TV-MA rating for today’s standards. The show is subsequently edited for such content when broadcast in syndication or on basic cable.

Seduction of the Innocent (the novel). In 2013, Hard Case Crime published Seduction of the Innocent, a mystery novel by prolific author Max Allan Collins, with illustrations by Terry Beatty: a murder mystery steeped in EC comics lore from the 1950s:

  (#6)

Story and graphics that would surely have offended Wertham.

5 Responses to “Butch Dykeman, Toni Gay, and a moral panic”

  1. Ben Zimmer Says:

    The duo of Dykeman and Gay remind me of a recent SNL sketch, “Dyke and Fats.”

  2. Joel S. Berson Says:

    Ah, Image #1: The old “Can you touch your elbows behind your back?” trick (as Maxwell Smart might have phrased it). Performed, around the same 1949 period as the Popular Teen-Agers comics, by some early adolescent boys of my acquaintance on adolescent girls whom perhaps they visualized as having similar upper-body shapes — once their elbows had met — to the illustrations Arnold has so kindly provide us.

    AMZ, your eyes didn’t also roll at “Eve Ardour”?

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Of course my eyes rolled at “Eve Ardour”. I decided to keep my eye rolls and similar gestures down — wouldn’t want to be labeled as “extravagant”, after all.

  3. School Day Romances | Says:

    […] Butch Dykeman, Toni Gay, and a moral panic […]

  4. School Day Romances – Good Girl Comics Says:

    […] Butch Dykeman, Toni Gay, and a moral panic […]

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